C1. Protected areas

a. Total extent of protected areas: on-land

b. Total extent of protected areas: at-sea

c. Condition of Areas / Sites of Special Scientific Interest


Type:  Extent – Response Indicator; Condition – State/Response Indicator


Indicator Description

The extent measures are a calculation of the net (non-overlapping) extent of protected areas using mean high water as the boundary between the at-sea and on-land measures.

The indicator also shows the condition of terrestrial and coastal features on Areas or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (A/SSSIs).  A/SSSIs are designated for their ‘features’ – habitats or species which give them their scientific interest.  Each country assesses the condition of features and reports either the area or the number of features in favourable or unfavourable-recovering (“recovering”) condition.  These assessments are converted to percentages in this indicator, to allow them to be combined, but the percentage does not equate exactly with the area that is favourable or recovering. 




The total extent of land and sea protected in the UK through national and international protected areas, and through wider landscape designations, has increased by 12.6 million hectares, from 15.4 million hectares in December 2013 to 28.0 million hectares at the end of March 2018.

This 12.6 million hectare increase is almost entirely down to the designation of inshore and offshore marine sites under the European Union (EU) Habitats Directive, the designation of Marine Conservation Zones in English, Welsh, and Northern Irish waters, and designation of Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas in Scottish waters.  The extent of protected areas on land has increased by 12,900 hectares since 2013.


The percentage of features, or area, of A/SSSIs in favourable or unfavourable-recovering condition increased from 67% in 2005, to 86% in 2013, and remained stable at 85% in 2018.  The proportion of features or area of land in unfavourable-recovering condition (the light blue part of Figure C1ii) has increased from 14% in 2005 to 35% in 2018.  These changes reflect improved management of sites, but may also be affected by a greater number of sites/features having been assessed over time.


Figure C1i.  Extent of UK nationally and internationally important protected areas: (a) on-land; (b) at-sea, 1950 to 2018.




  1. The boundary between protected areas on-land and at-sea is mean high water (mean high water spring in Scotland).  Coastal sites in the indicator are split between ‘on land’ and ‘at sea’ if they cross the mean high water mark.  At-sea extent includes offshore marine protected areas out to the limit of the UK continental shelf.
  2. Based on calendar year of site designation.  For 2018, the data cut-off is 31 March.
  3. Extent is based on the following site designations: Areas of Special Scientific Interest, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves, Marine Conservation Zones, Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas, Ramsar Sites, Special Areas of Conservation (including candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Importance), Special Protection Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Scenic Areas, National Parks.

Source: Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.


Figure C1ii.  Cumulative proportion of Areas of Special Scientific Interest (Northern Ireland) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (England and Scotland) in ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable-recovering’ condition, 2005 to 2018.




1.      England figures based on area.  Scotland and Northern Ireland figures based on number of features. 

2.      Based on data to the end of the calendar month shown.  Data were not collated in 2007.

3.      Imputation has been used to calculate the breakdown between favourable and unfavourable-recovering for Northern Ireland for the years 2009 to 2011. 

4.      Figures exclude condition of A/SSSIs notified for geological features only.

Source: Natural England, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.


Assessment of change in area and condition of UK protected areas


Long term

Short term

Latest year

Total extent of protected areas:
on land



No change (2018)

Total extent of protected areas:
at sea



No change (2018)


Condition of A/SSSIs



No change (2018)


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Last updated: July 2018

Latest data available: 31 March 2018

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